As a cybersecurity software vendor, we’ve conducted many risk assessments for enterprises. Over the years we’ve seen some egregious security faux pas, even at highly regulated organizations.
However, despite the occasional outlandish blunder, most of the IT security mistakes we witness are fairly common and predictable. In our experience, here are five of the most frequent information security errors that organizations make:
- Common credentials: Setting all workstations and/or server administrator accounts to the same password is a convenience for IT – but also for hackers and malicious insiders. If a bad guy compromises the password for one machine, all the machines with that same password are suddenly in jeopardy.
- Persistent access. Too many organizations have administrator accounts with long-lived privileged passwords to manage machines. Problem is, if an intruder steals the password he can use it to maintain access on for as long as that credential remains unchanged – whether it’s weeks, months or even years.
- Porous perimeter. Perimeter security tools like firewalls and intrusion detection are effective at defending against known threats. But targeted phishing attacks, zero days and similar advanced threats can easily bypass perimeter protections and infiltrate the network. This is where the meaning of “identity is the new perimeter” comes into action. Organizations without a last line of defense to block attacks that penetrate the perimeter quickly becoming the new front line – and the latest data breach victims.
- Bad assumptions. Here’s one of the most dangerous assumptions that many IT groups make: believing that their environment cannot be, or has not been, breached. That’s a bad bet to make. Even smaller organizations can be the victims of automated attacks that scan for vulnerabilities. The problem compounds when nothing is done to proactively search for intrusions or compromised systems. Or to prepare in any way for cyberattacks which will inevitably strike. Organization should adopt the “we are already breached” mentality.
- Local administrators: Allowing users to logon as administrator on their own machines is a normal, although perilous, IT practice. Consider, for example, what could happen if someone attempts to install malware on one of your systems. If the attempt is made on a machine belonging to a normal user in the local administrator’s group then that malware can do whatever it wants on that system. However, if the end-user doesn’t have administrator level access then that malware is limited to that user’s non-privileged context. Thus preventing it from installing in the first place.
According to Avecto’s 2017 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, 95% of critical vulnerabilities in Microsoft browsers can be mitigated by removing administrator rights.
The Security Inside the Firewall Approach
So where does an organization even start to address these five common privileged-centric short comings? Start by implementing an internal defense solution like automated privileged access management (PAM). Begin that process with discovery. You can’t protect what you don’t know exists. So, first identify the privileged accounts in your organization. Our free Discovery Tool is a good first step.
After discovering these critical accounts start managing their credentials by making all their passwords unique and very strong. Once you have them under management you can apply traditional Vaulting workflows for accessing them. Or you can implement access controls that programmatically handle the credentials when they’re needed. That way, end-users never even see the passwords.
Once you have discovered, managed and controlled the use of the privileged credentials in your organization, you can progress further by implementing endpoint controls and behavior analytics. That will further limit your privileged attack surface and give you insight into what is happening within your network.
Implementing a comprehensive PAM solution takes time and it is a process. However, high value actions like privileged discovery, vaulting and/or access management can give you a big cybersecurity win, and a huge step forward in advancing your organization’s security posture.